What Does “Certified Organic” Mean?

What Does “Certified Organic” Mean?

The United States Department of Agriculture requires that anyone who produces, processes or handles organic agricultural products must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier in order to sell, label or represent their products as “organic.” To become certified, an organic producer, processor or handler must develop, implement and maintain an organic system plan. That’s where PCO comes in. We provide the information needed to develop an organic system plan.


Once an organic system plan is approved, we send a qualified organic inspector to perform an onsite evaluation of the organic operation. Then, based on review of the organic system plan, inspection report and related documents, PCO will determine whether the operation meets the requirements of organic certification. A certified operation must update its organic system plan and be inspected annually.


PCO’s certification program is accredited by the USDA for compliance with the National Organic Program.


Organic certification is not a guaranty of quality or purity of the product. Rather, it is evidence of the operation’s adherence to a prescribed system of agriculture and food production that involves the building and enhancing of the soil naturally, protection of the environment, humane treatment of animals and avoidance of toxic synthetic substances.


PCO invites comments and questions on organic topics from consumers, growers and anyone interested in organic agriculture. We also encourage you to become involved! PCO is a grass-roots organization. Our committees are made up of volunteers bringing their diverse backgrounds, expertise and ideas together to help PCO work for the organic producers of Pennsylvania. Look on the Membership page of this site for ways you can connect with PCO and organic agriculture.